WEIRDLAND: 25 Best High School Movies

Sunday, September 20, 2009

25 Best High School Movies

"Megan Fox terrorizes her school in ''Jennifer's Body'' -- and we're naming the honor roll of the greatest high school flicks ever, from ''Fast Times at Ridgemont High'' and ''Grease'' to ''Mean Girls'' and ''Ferris Bueller'' -- leading up to our No. 1":
25. HOOSIERS (1986)

Most school movie jocks are belligerent bullies. But Jimmy Chitwood (Maris Valainis) is part Larry Bird, part Rain Man, letting the swish of the basketball net do his talking. Hoops-crazed Hickory, Ind., adores him for it. His support of embattled Coach Dale (Gene Hackman) sways the town, and his skill transforms Dale from goat to genius. In the championship game, the Brylcreemed god overrules Dale's last-second strategy with three words: ''I'll make it.'' Definitely. —Jeff Labrecque
24. RUSHMORE (1998)

For some reason, Rushmore doesn't quite feel like a high school movie. Maybe that's because director/co-writer Wes Anderson's wonderful comedy doesn't feel like any other movie ever made. But it's about school days: Just the fact that Jason Schwartzman's tirelessly enterprising Max Fischer is a student at all becomes palpably bittersweet, since he's too young to ever win Olivia Williams, the teacher of his (and anyone's) dreams. —Gregory Kirschling
22. AMERICAN PIE (1999)

A frivolous teen comedy that left its mark: Jason Biggs taught us the dangers of webcam misuse (and baked-goods abuse), while the guy who'd become Harold — or was it Kumar? — popularized the term MILF. Pie was both funnier and bawdier than Porky's, though that 1981 romp gets points for Kim Cattrall's outrageous orgasm scene. But even she can't top Alyson Hannigan's perfect delivery of the line (all together now): ''This one time? At band camp?'' —Hannah Tucker
21. GREASE (1978)

Still the top-grossing film musical ever, Grease may look too pure to be ''pink,'' but listen to those lyrics (and watch John Travolta ogle Olivia Newton-John in ''You're the One That I Want'') and you may find yourself blushing. Beneath the karaoke-heaven soundtrack lies a story with teen pregnancy, ''pussy wagons,'' and a TV personality trying to put an aspirin in a girl's Coke. Naughty but harmless, it's just like high school should be. —Mandi Bierly

Perhaps the finest movie in a shockingly sparse mini-genre: the high school weepie. (After all, high school makes you cry sometimes.) Here, if Robert Sean Leonard's suicide doesn't get you (''My son! My son!''), then the ending — Ethan Hawke's stirring ''O Captain! My Captain!,'' Maurice Jarre's blaring bagpipes, and teacher Robin Williams' ''Thank you, boys, thank you'' — will. Only somebody too cool for school could resist. —Gregory Kirschling

Peter Bogdanovich's black-and-white film takes us to the tumbleweed burg of Anarene, Tex., where Jeff Bridges, Timothy Bottoms, and Randy Quaid vie for Cybill Shepherd, the town's No. 2 seductress. (Her mom's No. 1.) These horny, angst-ridden teens deal with sex, mortality, money, and a li'l Texas football by being themselves: subconsciously callous. But the witty banter, mostly by the grown-ups, makes it all less bleak. —Vanessa Juarez

Producer Roger Corman's comedy is a jiggly love affair set at Vince Lombardi High and centered on matchmaker Eaglebauer (Clint Howard), whose office is a men's room stall, and ''Riff Randell, rock & roller'' (pre-Stripes hottie P.J. Soles), who must rebel against Principal Togar (Mary Woronov) to see a forbidden — and very excellent — Ramones show. Think Spinal Tap and Dazed and Confused skipping study hall together to get stoned. —Jason Adams

Would you change anything if you could relive high school? Possibly hook up with that beatnik of a guy you always wondered about? Until Chevrolet makes an actual plutonium-powered time machine, we'll have to live vicariously through this humorously goofy Francis Ford Coppola flick, in which Peggy Sue (Kathleen Turner) goes back in time to figure out whether pompadoured heartthrob Charlie (Nicolas Cage) is her one and only. —Vanessa Juarez

15. CARRIE (1976)

School can be terrifying, especially when you're an awkward telekinetic teen whose mother is a loony religious zealot. Poor Carrie White can't even get through P.E. class without being viciously mocked by her peers. But in this Brian De Palma classic, the wallflower eventually gets her revenge in the spectacularly gory prom climax (even disposing of a Kotter-era John Travolta). Sissy Spacek's Oscar-nominated turn in the title role is pure, silent rage. —Tim Stack
14. DONNIE DARKO (2001)

There are funnier high school movies, and ones with better soundtracks and more nostalgic value, but how many of those deal with time travel, alternate universes, fate, God, free will, therapy, censorship, teenage angst, falling airplane engines, pedophilia, and a scary freaking bunny? Point made. And while we still don't necessarily understand it all, few films deal so matter-of-factly with the sheer dread (both literal and metaphoric) of teen life. —Gilbert Cruz
13. HIGH SCHOOL (1968)

Although it was added to the elite National Film Registry the same year as 2001 and Chinatown, Frederick Wiseman's documentary is — like many of his fly-on-the-wall nonfiction films — extremely difficult to find on video. But it is essential. Thirty years before reality TV, Wiseman took his camera to Philadelphia's Northeast High School and shot what was there, editing it, without narration, into a devastating indictment of bureaucracy and enforced conformity. —Gregory Kirschling
12. MEAN GIRLS (2004)

There was a time when Lindsay Lohan was best known for her acting rather than her party-hopping. Showcasing La Lohan in arguably her best role to date, this Tina Fey-scripted film also boasts a breakout turn by Rachel McAdams as evil queen bee Regina George (''Gretchen, stop trying to make 'fetch' happen! It's not going to happen!''). While Mean Girls is technically a comedy, its depiction of girl-on-girl cattiness stings incredibly true. —Tim Stack
11. SAY ANYTHING (1989)

Go on: Hoist that boom box above your head and turn up ''In Your Eyes.'' Stand motionless with a fixed expression of unrequited but determined love. And watch Cameron Crowe's ode to young passion, which made John Cusack the thinking teen's heartthrob and should have done the same for Ione Skye. If the postgraduation romance between an earnest kickboxer and a sheltered valedictorian doesn't win you over, repeat steps one and two and listen closer. —Hannah Tucker

Who didn't want to be Ferris in 12th grade? Who wouldn't want school to be a magical place where you could wake up and call in sick (with an awesome hacking-cough keyboard) and then see your name in a get-well-soon message painted on the side of a water tower by lunch, all while you were cruising through Chicago in a red Ferrari? Thanks to Matthew Broderick as Ferris, teenagerdom has never felt more fun or mythic. —Gregory Kirschling
9. ELECTION (1999)

Before taking on geezers (About Schmidt) and oenophiles (Sideways), director Alexander Payne in Election scabrously exposed the most embarrassing shortcomings of high schoolers in an artful, hilarious way. He doesn't go easy on anybody — not Matthew Broderick's weak, meddling teacher, nor Reese Witherspoon's Fargo-accented student-council-president candidate. In fact, Election is as mean as high school at its worst. —Gregory Kirschling
7. CLUELESS (1995)

It's a rare movie that makes you want to befriend the prettiest, most popular girl in school. But not all girls are Cher (Alicia Silverstone), who gets as many killer lines as fashion ensembles, learns that seeing the best in others is a way to better yourself, and discovers the joy of shopping with a well-dressed gay man — all at the ripe age of 15. Credit writer-director Amy Heckerling for making this modern-day Emma consistently smart and funny. —Mandi Bierly


Graffiti's cast of teens — including Richard Dreyfuss and Ron Howard — has serious decisions to make on a late-summer night filled with rock music and hot rods, the kind that can only be made if they stay up 'til dawn. Should they ditch town for college? Should they stay with their gals? Whatever the choice, it infuses this most innocently joyous eve-of-adulthood film with that bittersweet feeling of leaving one's childhood behind. —Gilbert Cruz
5. HEATHERS (1989)

For those who dream about offing an obnoxious classmate, Heathers is the ultimate fantasy. Full of mordant wit, shocking violence, and savvy performances by Christian Slater and Winona Ryder, the flick was the antithesis of the earnest '80s John Hughes films — you'd never see Molly Ringwald serving up a kitchen-cleaner cocktail for Ally Sheedy. Even today, Heathers' spin on cliques, teen suicide, and homosexuality still has bite. —Tim Stack

''You're tearing me apart,'' Jim Stark (James Dean) howls at his parents. For the new kid in school, it doesn't get any easier. Though he finds a friend in the extremely troubled Plato (Sal Mineo), Stark gets into it on his first day with a gang of bullies, in a knife fight and later in a chickie run. Dean was a refreshing change from the well-scrubbed teens of earlier Hollywood films. Here was a character young audiences could finally recognize. —Vanessa Juarez

Matthew McConaughey's Wooderson likes high school girls because even though he gets older, they stay the same age. We feel the same way about Richard Linklater's minutiae-filled comedic epic about the last day of school in 1976 — we may get older, but Dazed is ageless. And for a movie featuring so many stoners, Dazed is mammothly ambitious: Few other films say as much about starting, sticking around in, and leaving high school. —Gregory Kirschling

When screenwriter Cameron Crowe went undercover to observe the species Teenagerus americanus, he returned with more than the usual grab-bag of anecdotes about horny, apple-pie-humping guys and the popularity-obsessed girls who must fight them off with a stick. He returned with 24-karat truth. To watch Fast Times today is to know exactly what it felt like to be fixated on sex, drugs, and rock & roll in Southern California circa 1982. It also launched careers and dished out still-relevant life lessons: Jennifer Jason Leigh (relax your throat muscles when fellating a carrot), Phoebe Cates (always knock before entering a bathroom), and Judge Reinhold (see above). And Sean Penn's Jeff Spicoli, with his checkerboard Vans and bong-hit grin, was a geyser of catchphrases (''Aloha, Mr. Hand!'').

We see it as we want to see it — in the simplest terms, the most convenient definition: The Breakfast Club is the best high school movie of all time. It may lack the scope of its peers — the drinking, the driving, the listless loitering in parking lots — as well as any scenes that actually take place during school. But if hell is other people — and high school is hell — then John Hughes is the genre's Sartre, and this is his No Exit.

The concept is simple: one Saturday detention, five unhappy teens, and their scramble to prove they're each something more than a brain (Anthony Michael Hall), an athlete (Emilio Estevez), a basket case (Ally Sheedy), a princess (Molly Ringwald), and a criminal (Judd Nelson). Following the farcical fluff of Sixteen Candles, the issues Hughes explored — sex, drugs, abuse, suicide, the need to belong to something — were surprisingly subversive and handled with bracing, R-rated honesty. '''Kids movie' was a derogatory term,'' recalls Nelson, ''and Hughes was definitely not making that.'' Thus, 21 years later, the film still sparks intense debates about the trials of teen life. (Sheedy's goth freak gets a makeover, then gets the guy: well-earned happy ending or antifeminist propaganda? Discuss!)

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